Sunday, November 09, 2008

Remember


The men in this picture are Canadians celebrating their great victory at Vimy Ridge in 1917. They are all gone now. Some of them are buried in France or Belgium; they never made it home. Others survived to return to Canada.
In every small town in Canada you will find a hockey arena, a LCBO (or its equivalent) and a war memorial. I have seen them in Fernie B.C. and in Truro, Nova Scotia, in university residences and the avenues of Toronto, in the centre of Charlottetown and in the centre of my own hometown of Sudbury.
I was at a funeral in PEI last summer, held in a tiny old church on a slight rise, overlooking rolling green fields and down below, the Northumberland Strait. The church was built in the 19th century, it was stifling hot the day I was there, though it was just May. A simple beautiful building, built near a crossroads, it has served the farmers who lived in the countryside around. And on the wall, at the entrance, a plaque with six names on it, farmers' boys who lie buried in Flanders, have been for nearly a century and will be there for eternity.
Sixty thousand Canadians perished in the Great War and forty thousand more in the war that followed just over twenty years later. Just boys most of them. They marched cheerfully to Europe in 1914. It was a time of innocence and they believed in their country and their Empire and in the fight against Germany. A war that never should have happened, millions of men slaughtered, drowning in the muck, blown apart by shells, machine gunned as they attacked impregnable positions, led by donkeys who had no idea of what they were ordering these boys to do. The same foolish old men who botched the war botched the peace so that barely twenty years later Canadians again marched off to Europe, many sons of the survivors of World War One. This time they marched with caution and knowing of the horrors that lay ahead yet they marched just the same.
Ask the Dutch or the French or the Belgians what Canada means to them. The sacrifices made to destroy a brutish ideology and save the world are not forgotten there and thankfully, after years of neglect, are not forgotten here. On Tuesday morning take a moment and honour the young men and women who fought (and fight) for our country. You may not believe in the war, whether it be the useless slaughter in France ninety years ago or the current conflict in Afghanistan, but honour these boys who fought for their country. We live in a country whose freedoms and prosperity are amongst the greatest enjoyed in the world. So much of that is because of men like those in the picture above, the best that Canada had to offer.
Think of their sacrifice. Think of their courage. Be thankful for where we live for we owe so much of what we enjoy to them.

16 comments:

doritogrande said...

Couldn't have put it better myself.

Lest we forget.

eyebleaf said...

I was born in Kuwait City, of Indian heritage. I came to Canada when I was two years old, and am Canadian to the core.

Nothing makes me more proud than knowing what we did in WWI and WWII. The sacrifice of men and women much better than us should never be forgotten.

Thanks for this post.

HBomb said...

You've outdone yourself Pat. Outstanding.

Swabbubba said...

As a former member of the forces you nailed the importance of the day.Very eloquent ...

Where I was raised it was in Northern Alberta on farm. There was hamlet near us where there was post office and gas station. There was a beat up old hockey rink... just boards really. The only thing around it that was clean and kept in any sort of repair was the War Memorial this was in the late 70's.

Scott said...

True.

I'm young enough that I haven't personally known one person killed in a war. We live a very privileged life (or at least I do) and we need to be thankful for it.

Paulus said...

There was but one choice of place to move for my Grandparents and my Dad when they decided to leave Holland shortly after WWII. They went straight here, to their new favourite country.

Billy said...

My dads side was wiped out in WWII almost completely, and still today i'm the 2nd oldest man in the family. Got some bro's and son though, so hopefully the name will carry on.
A few summer ago I was chattin with my Gramp's brother and he started tellin me about the war. The way he described it was shocking and brutal. He described the irritance of waiting for hot soup after 3 days of non-stop fightin, gettin sniped at and losing 3 soldiers, machine-gunnin the sniper down from a tree, and continuin the soup break. Those were different times and i'm mighty grateful to our Vets. Goin to war at 18 is impossible to comprehend, but they did it. And they deserve to be remembered forever for it.
I wanna go visit the beaches of Normandy one day, and do a proper tour of Canadas sacrifices.

Mr DeBakey said...

A good way to get an idea of WWII from a Canadian perspective is the books of Mark Zuehlke.

He's written a ton of Canadian war history.

His three volume series about the Italian campaign - Ortona, Liri Valley & Gothic Line - may be of most interest to Oiler fans;
the Loyal Edmonton Regiment was in the 1st Canadian Ifantry Division.
Ortona was their fight, and the Gothic Line too.
I see he's now gone back and added a volume on the Sicilian campaign - I will have to gt a copy.

Among other things, he's also done a series on D-Day & Canadian war in France.

T. said...

Beautiful.

My grandfather made it back from the war, Belgian bride right behind him and it took me a long time to realize the stories they had to tell.

When you're young it seems so far away and impossible to believe. But as I got older I started to listen and it still is hard to believe but in a totally different way. I lost my grandfather last year and I'm grateful I finally took that time to listen. He was an amazing man. I miss him.

Jim said...

Well said!

spOILer said...

I hate to be the dissenter on this, because I do belive these men sacrificed their lives.

However the real tragedy is that they did so mostly for money and power, and not the ideology the propagandists would have us believe. Especially WW1. And sheesh the freakin Catholic Church in the past and the USA in recent times have engaged in systems and activities as bad as the NAZIs in WW2. Thank god we won.

That we shame the memory of our dead soldiers by being part of an invasion force in another country isn't so much tragic as it is sad and pathetic.

Remembrance Day to me is an event for remembering the sheer waste of human life and endeavour for the games and profits of elites.

What we owe these dead soldiers is a massive apology and a promise not to do the same thing to their descendants.

What we owe our children is the truth.

/rant

Sorry.

Black Dog said...

spoiler - no need to apologize at all, that is a fair comment

I have read a lot about World War I. Read The Danger Tree by MacFarlane or Vimy by Berton or Passchendale by MacDonald.

All of these attack the senselessness of the conflict and bemoan the loss of a generation of young men. Berton celebrates the courage of the Canadian soldiers and the ingenuity of Arthur Currie, a general who believed in extensive preparation in order to minimize the cost to his men. And at the end of his book he notes that for all that the Canadians accomplished it was not worth the cost of all those young men.

I think that today has a number of meanings. One of them is to remember the horrors of war so that mistakes like those of 1914 to 1918 are not repeated. As I said in the post, when 1939 arrived young men did not go to war blindly.

Then again if there ever was such a thing as a 'good war' World War II was it. If the Allies had failed the world would be a horrible place.

I don't agree with everything that you have said, spoiler, but its a fair commentary.

Black Dog said...

spoiler - A war that never should have happened, millions of men slaughtered, drowning in the muck, blown apart by shells, machine gunned as they attacked impregnable positions, led by donkeys who had no idea of what they were ordering these boys to do. The same foolish old men who botched the war botched the peace

Lest we forget. Not just the young men and their courage and sacrifice but the fact that war should not be entered into for profit or under false pretense.

But also that our freedoms and the freedoms of others were not won easily

Bruce said...

I'm one of the lucky ones whose dad returned home in one piece after two years overseas, else I wouldn't be here. Dad spent his 21st birthday in spring 1945 crossing a bridge from Holland into Germany, literally invading the invaders. He was the antithesis of a warrior, a people person and a peaceful person, but he believed in the cause and laid his life on the line willingly for king and country.

Lest we forget.

spOILer said...

Pat,

The West winning WW2 hasn't meant the end of fascism, despotism, genocide, prejudice, or constraints on personal liberty. It only meant that somebody other than Hitler gets to do those things. It also meant that those with the power and money realized they had to be far more subtle about it. So now we're frogs in the lukewarm pot of water, instead. Wow, good thing we dropped nuclear bombs.

And big huge portions of the world are far poorer today than they were then, and are now more beholden to the "right, honourable, and just" victors of WW2.

And what makes you think the Allies behaved better than the Germans? Have you read: http://wiki.majorityrights.com/holocaust/eisenhower_death_camps. And of course there's the issue of Japanese internment, and countless atrocities at the unit and soldier level (not to mention what he ahve done and continue to do to this continents indigenous population). Perpetuation of propagandistic white hat/black hat thinking is othing more than ego gratification, yet it entrenches violent conflict into our societies.

And as for learning the lessons of the past, we learned so well from the Treaty of Versailles that after WW2 we promptly introduced Israel into the Middle East, guaranteeing and justifying permanent regional strife in the name of some superstitious mumbo-jumbo. Tell me that was not a deliberate error. And do you not have great difficulty believing peace was on any intelligent man's mind that June day they drew the borders and decided on reparations at the Palais de Versailles?

And we shouldn't fool ourselves about Remembrance Day and it's purpose. It exists primarily to encourage present and future enlistment, present and future willingness to fight if the nation's leaders say so (it can't be the nation's say, as the nation has been predominantly against the Afghan War, for eg). Remembrance Day would not be draped in pomp, pageantry and nationalistic jingoism if this was otherwise. It ain't primarily about remembering the past, it's about getting present and future generations to believe they will be honoured and honoured justly for the present and future killing of others. Others whose own nations are telling them the exact same thing.

If we can't even teach the past properly in our history books, in our media (which is right now struggling with fair presentations of the present, for pete's sake), in the movies... how much true remembering is anyone doing?

And I'm sorry once again, because most people don't want to hear this stuff. They'd prefer live life as the frog in the Potemkin jacuzzi.

Black Dog said...

spoiler - once again there's no need to apologize - I don't agree with very much of what you are saying but you're welcome to your opinion and the expression of it

I'm fully aware of the flaws in our economic and political systems.

I'm aware that we turned German cities into dust and that Canadian soldiers were noted for not taking prisoners.

I also know that Hitler slaughtered millions of Jews, Poles, Russians, the handicapped, homosexuals because they were considered inferior.

I know which I consider to be worse.

I may be a frog but I'm a frog free to say what I want, read what I want and to live the life I choose.

I think Iraq is a farce, Bush an ass and think corporations get away with murder.

And I can discuss those facts here with you with no fear of the government coming to my door.

Pass me a fly. Ribbet.